Houston government pass several key bills but can’t escape controversy during fall session

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia PCs wrapped its first sitting in legislature Friday'
Nova Scotia PCs wrapped its first sitting in legislature Friday
WATCH: Nova Scotia's Conservative government that was elected on a promise to fix health care has wrapped its first sitting in the legislature – Nov 5, 2021

The Nova Scotia legislature wrapped up its fall sitting Friday morning with Premier Tim Houston apologizing again for remarks he made during question period Thursday about workers who earn a minimum wage.

“I don’t know many Nova Scotians that grow up thinking, ‘Boy, I hope I make minimum wage when I grow up.’ That’s not the way people think, they want real jobs,” said Houston during a debate with NDP leader Gary Burrill.

Houston was quick to apologize for his remark, telling reporters outside the legislative chambers that he misspoke and he apologized again on Friday.

“I was careless with my words and I have to be held accountable for my words,” said Houston. “But certainly my words didn’t portray my true feelings. I have great respect and admiration for every Nova Scotian, particularly those that get up and go to work every single day and move this province forward and keep us safe.”

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Click to play video: 'Minimum wage debate gets heated at Province House'
Minimum wage debate gets heated at Province House

Halifax Atlantic MLA Brendan Maguire created some drama during the final sitting when he was tossed out of the legislature for his questioning and heckling of Houston for his minimum wage comments.

“I’m mad as hell because I’ve been through that and I’ve worked those jobs,” said Maguire. “These are real jobs and they are real careers and there are people out there trying to raise their families and that apology he gave wasn’t an apology, it was a deflection.”

This was the first in-person sitting at Province House in more than 18 months and the first for the newly elected Progressive Conservative government.

It’s been 12 years since the PCs have taken a seat on the opposite side of the house with a majority government and they used that majority to push through 19 pieces of legislation and advance new policy to deal with issues from the affordable housing crisis to the environment and health care.

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“We’re proud of the sitting we had, we accomplished a lot, to move Nova Scotia forward,” said Houston who touted the environmental legislation they passed as the most ambitious and aggressive environmental policy in the country, which includes a plan to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

“As a new government, we have jumped in quickly and are moving forward on initiatives that matter to Nova Scotians, like health-care recruitment, long-term care, mental health care, affordable housing, the environment and the economy,” said Houston.

The Tories kept a key election promise and passed legislation to implement a fixed election date for Nova Scotia. Until now the province was the only jurisdiction in the country to not have a fixed election date, however, both opposition parties were against the July election date.

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The PCs were largely elected on their promise to fix the health-care system, which will be a major focus of this government’s work over the coming months said Houston.

“There’s a lot of work to do, particularly around health care. We see health care continues to deteriorate and so we are very focussed on that,” said Houston.

Both the NDP and Liberal opposition parties were proud of their results during the fall sitting.

NDP leader Gary Burrill said his six-member party was instrumental in getting the PCs to flip their stance and implement a two-year rent cap after the premier and housing minister opposed extending it.

“We came into the house and saw a throne speech where rent control didn’t even get a syllable and within two weeks we were able to get a two-year extension on the rent cap,” said Burrill. “I feel that we have been able to make a real effective contribution.”

Houston and the PCs announced that rent control would continue until Dec. 31, 2023, under new legislation brought forward in October that limits residential rent increases to two per cent per year to protect tenants once the pandemic state of emergency ends.

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Click to play video: 'Halifax renter relieved after rent control announcement'
Halifax renter relieved after rent control announcement

After eight years in power, the Liberals shifted into opposition mode, which leader Iain Rankin said was a challenge but his party is up for the task of holding the Tories to account.

“It was very different in opposition,” said Rankin. “But I think holding them to account and pressuring for action on housing together with the NDP, worked early on. But just getting them on the record, all their promises that they made on health care – we don’t see any evidence of any movement on the outcomes in the health-care system, so I think that was good.”

The spring session will see the PCs table their first provincial budget. They’ve promised record spending to fix the health-care crisis.


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